The 2014–2015 ski season kicks off to a flurry of updates, renovations and openings. From the Alps to the Rockies to the volcanic slopes of Japan, skiers and snowboarders alike will find plenty to get excited about this year. Here, we present 25 reasons—big and small—why we can’t wait to hit the slopes this season.
1. Because the “dronie” is shaping up to be the new selfie
Val Thorens, a “technophile resort” in the French Alps, has taken the concept of high-tech skiing even higher. At 7,500 feet, Europe’s loftiest ski area recently introduced a novel alternative to the selfie or helmet cam, in the form of the “dronie,” a GoPro camera attached to a tiny helicopter that, for about $66 per 10-minute session (pilot included), allows you to dazzle your friends with Goodyear Blimp–style coverage of your exploits on the slopes. As an added bonus, the footage could prove valuable to a rescue party should your off-off-off-piste adventures go awry.
2. Because even the most doting parent needs the occasional break
Aspen Snowmass prides itself on its ability to be all things to all people, and it doesn’t leave the little ones out of the equation. This season, the Colorado resort complex will introduce the Hideout, a $10 million, 7,500-square-foot indoor play area and ski school. The fully staffed center, located at the base of Buttermilk Mountain, is aimed at kids ages two to 12 and offers plenty of opportunities to crawl, climb, squirm, trundle and, of course, learn the ABCs of skiing. Mom and Dad, meanwhile, get a little respite on the slopes—or over a couple of cocktails and a plate of truffle fries at the Ajax Tavern.
3. Because you don’t have to love skiing to visit a ski resort The first thing you’ll want to do when you check in at the Arelauquen Lodge, a recently (and lavishly) relaunched Patagonian property in the Argentine province of Río Negro, is find a window and ogle. Set beside Gutiérrez Lake at the base of Mount Otto, the 28-room lodge has a Sound of Music splendor to it, minus the singing. Snowhounds will find everything they need nearby at the storied Cerro Catedral resort, but those who wouldn’t know a ski from a fencepost have plenty to keep themselves occupied. Besides having an 18-hole golf course on its grounds, the Arelauquen can help arrange a day of polo, tennis, fishing, horseback riding, climbing, drinking, spa-ing, kayaking or sailing. The hotel eatery, EPIC, is overseen by the talented Martin Erkekdjian, so eating is in the cards too. And if you must hit the slopes, you can try heli-skiing.
4. Because Lake Tahoe is going back to its retro casino roots
Boasting one of the highest concentrations of ski resorts in the U.S., Lake Tahoe isn’t wanting for slope-side action. This season, though, will see the arrival of what’s being called a “game changer.” Following a $60 million renovation, the long-neglected Horizon casino has been transformed into the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe. It’s been almost 50 years since Del Webb’s Sahara-Tahoe opened its doors on this spot, going on to showcase the talents of Elvis Presley and the Osmond Brothers. The Hard Rock aims to pick up where the Sahara left off, with big name acts attempting to make themselves heard above the chiming of the slots.
5. Because a hidden California gem is now so much more accessible Among Californians, it’s no secret that Mammoth Mountain has fantastic skiing: an 11,000-foot summit, wide and well-groomed trails and some of the best springtime skiing in the world (until July 4 in a good year). But for those beyond the state line, the resort, tucked away on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas, outside the town of Mammoth Lakes, is relatively unexplored. This situation, however, is set to change. In December, United Airlines will launch two new routes, via Denver and Las Vegas, into Mammoth Yosemite Airport, the carrier’s first flights into the area not originating in California. While greedy Angelenos will no doubt be eager to keep a lid on the resort, its accessibility is good news for the rest of us.
6. Because America’s most architecturally significant new art museum is located in a ski town
Hot on the heels of his 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban debuted his first major post-victory building—and his first permanent American museum space—not in an architectural hotspot like New York or Chicago, but rather in a swanky Colorado Rockies ski town. To celebrate its 35th anniversary, the Aspen Art Museum moved this August from its home in an old hydroelectric plant into Ban’s $45 million stunner, a glass box wrapped in a basket-weave lattice made out of paper, resin and wood veneer. As a sly reference to the ski-slope surroundings, Ban has turned the experience of museumgoing on its head: Rather than being invited to enter a grand hall and work their way upward, visitors are instead whisked to a rooftop sculpture garden by a glass elevator, where they can catch a glimpse of Ajax Mountain before sweeping back down to street level through a series of contemporary galleries.
7. Because Italy’s newest ski-in/ski-out lodge is located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site
“To those who have struggled with them,” wrote British explorer Francis Younghusband, “the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort.” True, but it doesn’t take too much effort to discern the beauty surrounding the Adler Mountain Lodge, a 30-room ski-in/ski-out property that opened this summer after a decade of development. Situated at the foot of Col da Mezdì, the lodge provides a front-row seat to the high drama of Italy’s Dolomites, a place of such delirious splendor it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not surprisingly, the main design feature of the hotel and its Tyrolean-style chalets is the strategic placement of windows and terraces, allowing guests to enjoy the beauty of the mountains, even in the absence of struggle.
8. Because the Tyrolienne zip line takes skiers to new heights You might say the Tyrolienne zip line represents the peak of traveling in style. Opened this March, the line, which connects two peaks in the French Alpine ski region of Les Trois Vallées, ranks as the world’s highest. Beginning at an altitude of 10,597 feet in Orelle, guests glide 4,265 feet to the neighboring ski resort of Val Thorens. The ride may be only one minute and 45 seconds long, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hair-raising: You’ll hit speeds of 40 to 65 mph along the way.
9. Because Aspen cross-country skiing just got a whole lot easier
This winter, the St. Regis Aspen is offering something new: the sport of skijoring. The term derives from the Norwegian for “ski driving” and refers to cross-country skiing with the aid of, say, a yak, a horse, a motor vehicle or, in the St. Regis’ case, a dog. Rather than merely pointing you and your mutt in the direction of the closest trail, the St. Regis is offering private lessons in the art. The dogs, by all accounts, love it, which should help alleviate some of the guilt you’ll feel for shirking the exertion of going it alone. And, should you arrive at the resort without a dog in tow, you can get a loaner from the Aspen Animal Shelter. The pursuit, we should note, is not suitable for poodles, Chihuahuas or pugs.
10. Because you’ll finally have breathing room in Breckenridge
Breckenridge often ranks just behind Vail among America’s most visited ski areas. But with about half of Vail’s skiable acres, Breck’s slopes can feel as crowded as a department store on Black Friday. To thin the throngs, the resort undertook one of North America’s largest terrain expansions in more than a decade, debuting 550 skiable acres last Christmas. This year, there’s another reason to party: As one of the first major resorts to allow snowboarders onto its slopes, Breckenridge celebrates 30 years of the sport in 2015.
11. Because skiing in Taos just got a whole lot easier
Kachina Peak boasts some of Taos Ski Valley’s earliest snow of the season. Until this year, the New Mexico mountain was accessible only via a grueling 45-minute hike, but a new lift—one of America’s highest, at 12,450 feet—increases lift-serviced terrain by 50 percent overnight. If you’re sad to see Kachina lose its off-the-beaten-path vibe, take heart: This season also sees the opening of the 35-acre Wild West Glades, which are accessible only to hikers and include some of America’s best tree skiing.
12. Because the Epic Pass just got even more epic
The Vail Resorts Epic Pass represents one of the greatest deals in skiing. For $749, members get an unlimited season pass to 11 resorts across the country: Arapahoe Basin, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail in Colorado; Canyons in Park City, Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota; and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. This year, the Epic Pass goes global, offering the chance to ski five consecutive days at Switzerland’s Verbier, France’s Trois Vallées and, for the first time, Japan’s Niseko United. Located on the northern island of Hokkaido, about 60 miles south of Sapporo, Niseko comprises four base areas around 4,291-foot Niseko Annupuri mountain. With 590 inches of powder a year, the region is a favorite among Japanese skiers, but its renowned local beers and volcano-warmed onsen (hot springs) make it a hit even if you never hit the slopes.
13. Because we all love the feeling of having the mountain to ourselves Centered on the 1890s gold rush town of Rossland, British Columbia, Red Mountain Resort (pictured above) has a reputation among in-the-know skiers for being one of the continent’s least crowded ski areas. Laid-back and youthful, the resort sees a fraction of the visitors of Whistler Blackcomb or Banff. Sure, it’s a bit harder to get to—about 120 miles from the nearest major airport, in Spokane, Washington—but the biggest reason for the crowd-free slopes is that this place just keeps growing. Last season saw the addition of 1,000 acres of lift-serviced terrain on Grey Mountain, and this winter brings 195 acres of snowcat-accessible glades on neighboring Mount Kirkup. At other resorts, backcountry skiing can run you $500 a day, but here, the snowcat shuttle to Mount Kirkup is a staggeringly cheap $10 with lift ticket—or, as general manager Don Thompson likes to point out, the price of a beer at his competitors.
14. Because your après-ski cocktail now comes with spirits made just down the road
Vail ranks as America’s largest ski resort by acreage, with an outsize après scene to match. Starting this fall, you’ll be able to order a cocktail with spirits distilled in the heart of town. Named for the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which trained in these parts before World War II, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company began bottling its first batches this summer, funded in part with a Kickstarter campaign. Stop in at the new tasting room, which debuted this September, to try five signature varieties: bourbon, rye, moonshine, potato vodka and a sage-infused peach-vanilla cordial.
15-20. Because the French and Swiss Alps are battling for luxe resort supremacy
Located on the Oberalp Pass, Andermatt boasts some of Switzerland’s snowiest slopes. But until recently, the town was known only to the most diehard local skiers. Opened last December, the Chedi Andermatt could change all that. The first European property from Singapore’s GHM Hotels is part of a $2 billion development plan funded by Egyptian construction magnate Samih Sawiris that promises to turn Andermatt into the most sustainable ski resort in the Alps—if not the world.
As the host of the annual World Economic Forum, Davos has money on its mind. So it’s oddly appropriate that the InterContinental Davos looks a bit like a giant, golden goose egg. Inspired by the pine cones found in nearby forests, the $170 million architectural marvel, which opened last December, is covered in 691 champagne-colored, laser-cut panels that glisten in the sunlight. Floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies in all 216 rooms look out on Switzerland’s largest ski resort.
Think of Verbier as Ibiza in the snow, a ski destination in the French-speaking Swiss canton of Valais known for its lively nightlife and off-piste skiing. The town is a natural fit for Starwood’s trendy W brand, which debuted its first ski property here last December just steps from the gondola at Médran. W’s trademark contemporary sleekness is paired with alpine touches like raw timber and chalet-style architecture. Michelin-starred Spanish chef Sergi Arola combines local and Mediterranean flavors at his namesake on-site restaurant.
In recent years, the flashy town of Courchevel has been invaded by fur-sporting stars and high-rolling oligarchs. Opened last December as part of the Oetker Collection, L’Apogée Courchevel offers a surprisingly homey respite from the glitz. With its mix of timber, leather, velvet, suede and sporty plaid, the ski-in/ski-out hotel feels more like a boutique spin on a park lodge than a Vegas-style glamour palace. If you are looking for the latter sort of thing, L’Apogée also boasts the swanky Champagne Lounge and a resident DJ.
Hotel Koh-I Nor
At 7,546 feet, the Koh-I Nor ranks as Europe’s highest altitude five-star hotel, looking down over the world’s largest ski area, Les Trois Vallées. The property’s name is appropriately lofty: Persian for “mountain of light,” the Koh-i-Noor was once the largest known diamond on the planet, and its 105.6 carats earned it pride of place in the British royal crown. Coincidentally, there’s culinary royalty, in two-Michelin-starred chef Yoann Conte, at the helm of the hotel’s two restaurants, which are heavy on hearty French comfort food.
Hôtel L’Héliopic Sweet & Spa
Alpine luxury hotels often have a habit of feeling oppressively grand, but the new Hôtel L’Héliopic Sweet & Spa in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is a breath of fresh air. Guest rooms feel vaguely Scandinavian, with modish-but-crafty design touches like vintage-inspired sleek white furnishings, heathered-felt lamps, wool broadcloth curtains and oak parquet floors. Best of all, the hotel offers an in-house gear shop where you can buy or rent skis and snowboards.
21. Because improving the skiing environment can actually help the environment
For decades, America’s ski resorts have faced a catch-22. As the effects of global warming become more apparent, so too does the need for artificial snow. Unfortunately, snowmaking—which can account for 50 percent of a resort’s energyconsumption—contributes to the very problem that makes it necessary.
This season, however, visitors to Vermont’s ski resorts will enjoy vastly improved snow production with a clearer conscience. In partnership with Efficiency Vermont, a statewide environmental program, a number of resorts are seeing a major equipment upgrade that will not only allow for improvements in the quality and quantity of snow being made but will significantly reduce carbon emissions. Energy savings in the state are expected to top $2 million annually.
Stratton Mountain will install 350 energy-efficient snow guns, with a similar number being introduced at Sugarbush. Bromley Mountain is trading in all of its old air hogs for more efficient tower guns, while Smuggler’s Notch has announced the arrival of more than 150 high-efficiency guns. Elsewhere in the state, Stowe Mountain is set to complete a three-year, $9.8 million upgrade in snowmaking; Killington expects to sink about $2 million into the technology this year; and Mount Snow has reported that it is set to pick up 645 of the new guns, making its entire arsenal of nearly 1,000 guns energy efficient.
At the heart of the initiative is a snow gun exchange program that allows resorts to swap outdated, power-hungry guns for more efficient models, with rebates as an initial incentive, followed by long-term energy savings. An added bonus of the plan will be an increase in the amount of terrain covered by guns, along with the production of higher quality snow. The new technology will also allow for snowmaking in warmer temperatures, thereby prolonging the area’s ski season. As for the discarded guns, Efficiency Vermont will sell them for scrap, with proceeds going to the Vermont Ski Areas Association Learn to Ski and Ride Program, ensuring that snow isn’t the only thing that’ll be ramped up in the coming years.
22. Because comfy new gondola cabins will get you up Whistler’s slopes even faster At British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola has gotten all the attention since it debuted in 2008; connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, it ranks as the world’s longest and highest lift. Meanwhile, the dependable lift that departs from Whistler Village still uses workhorse cabins that haven’t seen an upgrade since 1988. Luckily, that all changes this season, when a $6 million renovation brings in brand-new, eight-passenger gondola cabins that will dramatically reduce wait time, make for a smoother ride and increase capacity on the line by 12 percent.
23. Because alpine restaurants don’t have to look like oversize cuckoo clocks
You might say Old World alpine ski restaurants are stuck in the past. With their hearth-warmed dining rooms and ornate timber facades, many look as if they’ve been serving fondue since before Heidi climbed her first Alp. Perched at exactly 10,000 feet above sea level at the Gaislachkogl peak chairlift station, in Austria’s Sölden ski area, the all-glass Ice Q restaurant (see page 89) is a game changer. With views over the Ötztal mountains, the sleekly modern eatery—which looks more like a supervillain’s mountaintop hideout than a traditional chalet—immediately had architecture geeks’ mouths watering when it opened last December. In addition to serving creative takes on Alpine cuisine, Ice Q includes a wine cellar that will house the best pinot noirs from three wineries: one in Germany, one in Austria and one in Italy.
24. Because Sun Valley refuses to settle for second place
From the beginning, Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort has dedicated itself to superlatives. Created in 1936 by the Union Pacific Railroad to attract more passengers out west, Sun Valley became the country’s first destination ski resort. That year, the resort installed the world’s first chairlifts, adapted from banana conveyor belt technology brought in from Panama. Over the years, it has added the continent’s largest snowmaking system, and, just this January, it debuted a record-breaking addition to appeal to the snowboarding set: Resort officials say that their 22-foot-tall Superpipe, which is groomed nightly to ensure the smoothest curves, ranks as the largest in all of North America.
25. Because there’s plenty of new gear to keep you souped up and suited up this winter
What: ColdAvenger Snow Hunter Balaclava
Why: Equipped with a medical-grade ventilator, the Snow Hunter warms and humidifies even the coldest winter winds without fogging the attached goggles—an essential if you’re trekking across Antarctica on foot like Sir Ranulph Fiennes (who took the brand along with him on the expedition) … or if you just want to outlast your friends on the slopes.
How much: $79.95
Where to use: Chacaltaya, Bolivia, the world’s highest
lift-served ski area
What: Seirus HeatTouch Ignite Glove
Why: Designed with flexible radiating heat panels and activated by the touch of a button, these rechargeable leather gloves keep hands toasty for up to six hours without all the uneven heating of the traditional chemical packets.
How much: $374.99
Where to use: Mount Aurora, Alaska, home to North America’s northernmost chairlift
What: K2 Skis Route helmet
Why: Though they’ve gained a much larger following in recent years, helmets still have plenty of critics who decry them as heavy, sweaty and distracting. For the 2014–2015 winter season, K2 has silenced naysayers with this sleek model, the lightest on the market.
How much: $149.95
Where to use: Anywhere, really, but especially at Steamboat, Colorado, which was rated as the No. 1 U.S. tree skiing destination by Skiing magazine
What: UClear HBC220 Force dual Snow helmet communications System
Why: With different ages, speeds and abilities, it can be tough to keep a family together from the top of the mountain to the bottom. This in-helmet communications system is changing all that. An easy, hands-free way to stay in touch with your ski party, the UClear Force Dual Snow is rated to work at distances of more than 2,000 feet and can be paired with most Bluetooth-enabled devices.
How much: $479.95 for a dual system, available at REI
Where to use: At Dolomiti Superski, an Alpine ski resort with more than 530 trails
What: Backcountry Access Inc. Float 27 Tech
Why: The latest essential for the adventurous skier is an airbag that can buoy skiers in the event of an avalanche and reduce burial depth. The key is a trigger that, when pressed, inflates a 150-liter bag. When not in use as a flotation device, this backpack also offers a light, spacious way to stow everything from pickaxes to helmets.
How much: $599.95
Where to use: Heli-skiing in Utah